Letter V

From Letter V:

[19] One of the most interesting subjects to which the mind can turn its attention, is that of domestic happiness. Why do we form ourselves into societies and families, but to aid the improvement and contribute to the comfort of one another? The finest sight that could possibly be exhibited to me on earth, would be – not an immense army with all its glittering appendages, its trumpets and its banners, going to murder sovereigns to depopulate kingdoms and to bring home their treasures to enrich the little spot where I happen to be born: not illuminated towns, and triumphal processions, to celebrate the murder of so many thousands of my fellow-creatures. No! I turn ashamed and grieved from spectacles like these.* The sight I would [20] behold is a family united in love, moving on in all the beauty of order, in all the happiness of harmony; each individual studying his own little part, and all combining for the good of the whole. No adventitious advantages are requisite to form a scene like this. Fortune, titles, genius, are not necessary. A thorough conviction that our comfort is comprised in our duty, and an habitual endeavour to aim at it, would, in every situation, realize this beautiful spectacle. All the members of an household have their different parts, and he who fills his best is most to be honoured. That which young persons, nay, which children occupy, is pleasant and important; and the comfort of a family is much promoted by their mutual kindness, their firm adherence to the truth, and a minute attention to perform the little things which their part requires, in the best manner possible.

Important advantages may be derived from attentively observing all that passes around you. If you perceive any thing wrong in others, you may generally discover ill consequences to which [21] it leads; and thus you have an additional inducement to guard against error. Whatever you witness that is amiable and right, you must inwardly approve; and if a degree of pleasure arises from beholding virtue, how much greater must that be which results from its possession. Thus every character becomes useful; and every day opens a new book, out of which something may be learned.

It is not great events which form useful characters, but the right improvement of little daily occurrences; and it is probable that some of the most sublime virtues are practised in the greatest obscurity. Mankind are too much disposed to admire what is splendid and pompous. Thus, large sums devoted to public charities, and liberal subscriptions to fashionable undertakings, commonly procure those who perform such acts a great deal of praise. But it is much easier to lavish sums of money in this way, than to be daily intent on speaking the truth, and doing justice in every little instance, as far as possible, to all around us: much easier to make expensive presents, and thus to obtain the title of generous, than to meet disappointments with fortitude, and ill usage with forbearance.

O, my children! be attentive to little things. Think not what applause any action would bring from others. What is it in itself? What is it [22] at the tribunal of conscience? What is it before Him “who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity?” Be these your enquiries, and you cannot dangerously err. That you may ever enjoy that peace which must be the result, is the fervent wish of

Yours, affectionately.

[19]* “The conqueror,” said the pirate Dimetrius to Alexander, “is a man, who, at the head of a hundred thousand soldiers, takes at once a hundred thousand purses; cuts the throats of a hundred thousand citizens; [20] does in great, what the robber does in little; and who, by being more unjust than the latter, is more destructive to society.” – For an admirable parallel between Alexander and a highwayman, see the Adventurer, Vol. ii. No. 47.